By Matt Popchock
Football returns to its roots on Friday nights in western Pennsylvania, and this fall ROOT Sports will return to…well, the roots…of its high school football coverage.
The WPIAL will move select regular season games to Thursday nights to accommodate live television this season. Officials from both the WPIAL and ROOT Sports decided traditional Friday night telecasts, which were finally tried last year, were counter-productive due to frequent tape delays brought on by contractual obligations to the Penguins and Pirates. This year the Thursday night schedules for both teams mesh well.
Although this has not been confirmed, the WPIAL is not expected to alter its playoff schedule; postseason telecasts on ROOT Sports will likely remain tape-delayed as necessary, with district championships–and coverage thereof–commencing Fri., Nov. 23.
The network formerly known as FSN Pittsburgh is now entering its eighth consecutive season of WPIAL football coverage (under both monikers). It has not released its full schedule, but we at least know a few of the games coming to a cable box near you.
Montour visits Central Valley in an early Parkway Conference test Sept. 6 that couldn’t be a more perfect way to kick off the “Year of the Receiver.” Several WPIAL Class of ’13 players at that position have been recruited aggressively, including Montour’s Devin Wilson and Central Valley super-athlete Robert Foster.
Foster, as a sophomore, played a critical role in helping the Warriors win a WPIAL Class AAA title immediately following the Center-Monaca merger, and last year, Wilson helped the Spartans claim their first such prize since 1964. Montour avenged an early-season loss by narrowly upsetting Central Valley, 21-14, in the 2011 district semifinals, needing a goal-line fumble recovery to punch its ticket to Heinz Field.
On Sept. 20 defending state champion Clairton travels to take on former Tri-County South powerhouse Monessen in a newly-formed Black Hills Conference rivalry game. The Bears have already secured an entire chapter for themselves in the history books, but this fall they’re going for more.
Clairton, owner of a nation-best 47-game winning streak, will try for its fifth WPIAL Class A title in a row, fourth straight PIAA crown, and the state record for longest winning streak, which stands at 59 (Central Bucks West, 1997-2000). Sticking with the aforementioned theme, they will feature top receiver Tyler Boyd, who has been offered by almost 20 Division I schools as a defensive back. The Greyhounds, meanwhile, are led by future WVU quarterback Chavas Rawlins.
The following Thursday Seneca Valley will head uptown to battle Pittsburgh Central Catholic, which, per biennial realignment, will compete with the Raiders in the expanded Class AAAA Northern Eight Conference. Seneca Valley, coming off its first playoff win since 2003, returns a loaded offense boasting dual-threat QB Jordan Brown, one of the most exciting players in Quad-A.
Central Catholic also has an interesting situation under center. Thanks to a recent eligibility ruling by the PIAA, former Kiski Area quarterback J.J. Consentino, who lost his job to injury in 2011, will likely start that Sept. 27 contest for the Vikings.
We won’t know ROOT Sports’ entire WPIAL football broadcast schedule until some time within the next couple weeks, but even though I liked how both parties adopted the NFL’s flexible scheduling concept last year, it should be a darn good schedule, as they’ve already teased us with some pretty tantalizing matchups. Having said that, I have mixed feelings about the return to Thursdays.
I’ve always felt football on weeknights is like beer and pizza; more is not always better. Moving a marquee game up earlier in the week presents inconveniences to deadline-driven media and to the teams playing in it. On the other hand, a significant chunk of ROOT Sports’ audience for these games, in theory, will already be attending games on Friday nights, which hurts ratings if they leave their featured game on Friday.
Tape-delayed coverage of these games still draw plenty of attention, as both PCN and the PIHL Network, which frequently carry scholastic sporting events on tape delay, can attest. But if ROOT Sports is looking to crest its numbers, perhaps shortening the prep week and isolating two given teams on a given Thursday night is a necessary evil.
In any event, we’ll break down the entire ROOT Sports WPIAL football schedule as soon as it becomes available.
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)